Micro Tour: West Cliff Drive

Nestled along the rugged coastline of California, Santa Cruz beckons with its laid-back vibes, stunning vistas, and a vibrant surf culture that permeates every corner of this seaside town. If you’re looking to soak in the essence of Santa Cruz in a short span, a micro-tour of West Cliff Drive is the perfect choice. West Cliff Drive is a scenic 3-mile walking and biking path along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz with sweeping views of the Monterey Bay. Along the coastal path, visitors don’t just have views to enjoy but so many natural spaces and businesses to explore. This iconic stretch of road offers a condensed yet delightful glimpse into the heart of Santa Cruz, from artisanal coffee to world-class surf spots and everything in between. 

Photo by Jenn Day

Steamer Lane: Where Surfing Legends Roam 

As you venture further along West Cliff Drive, the unmistakable allure of Steamer Lane beckons. Renowned among surfers worldwide, Steamer Lane is a mecca for wave riders seeking the thrill of challenging swells and epic rides. Even if you’re not catching waves yourself, watching the skilled surfers dance across the water is a mesmerizing experience. If you’re a beginning surfer looking for lessons on this epic swell, the Cowell’s Beach area is a great spot to start. More advanced surfers head out close to the Lighthouse, where the biggest waves rise up. If you’re just interested in watching the surfers, head to the Lighthouse where the best views are!

Steamer Lane Supply: Coastal Bites and Surfer’s Delights 

After soaking in the surf action, make a pit stop at Steamer Lane Supply to taste Santa Cruz’s culinary delights. This beloved food shack serves up a mouthwatering array of seafood tacos, fresh salads, and hearty eats, perfect for refueling after a morning of exploration. Don’t miss out on their delicious baked goods and their Turkish Coffee to help you get through your day! 

Photo and Header Photo by Ben Ingram

Surfing Museum: Dive into Surfing’s Past 

The iconic Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse that sits at the pinnacle point of West Cliff Drive is a must-visit for your micro-tour. For those eager to delve deeper into the history of surfing, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum awaits. Housed inside the Lighthouse, this one-room museum showcases vintage surfboards, historic photographs, and fascinating stories of the sport’s evolution in Santa Cruz. 

Shrine Coffee: Fuel Up for the Adventure 

Shrine Coffee is another great spot to grab a drink that will set the perfect tone for your West Cliff Drive adventure. Tucked away in a cozy nook, this artisanal coffee shop delights visitors with its handcrafted brews and warm ambiance. Sip on a velvety latte or indulge in a freshly baked pastry as you prepare to explore the wonders that await along the coastline. Their excellent outdoor patio seating is surrounded by a lush garden with a view in the distance of the ocean. You can enjoy your coffee and tea as you listen to the waves and smell the ocean spray. 

Lighthouse Field State Park: Nature’s Sanctuary 

If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful expanse of ocean that creates the cliffs of West Cliff, across the street is a huge open space of newly renovated trails that weave through Monterey Cypress trees and wildflower-studded fields. Lighthouse Field State Park, a tranquil oasis where lush greenery meets sweeping ocean views is the perfect spot to walk with your dog or try to spot some wintering monarch butterflies clustered in treetops. Take a leisurely stroll along the coastal trails and breathe in the salty sea air. 

Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Surfer Statue: A Tribute to Surfing Heritage 

As you continue your journey, you’ll come across the iconic Surfer Statue, a testament to Santa Cruz’s rich surfing heritage. This larger-than-life bronze sculpture pays homage to the fearless surfers who have carved their legacy into the waves of Steamer Lane. 

Natural Bridges State Beach: A Window to Nature’s Beauty 

No visit to Santa Cruz is complete without a stop at Natural Bridges State Beach. This picturesque haven boasts dramatic natural rock formations, tide pools teeming with marine life, and a pristine sandy beach perfect for a leisurely stroll or a refreshing dip in the Pacific. This is also an ideal spot for a picnic or a sunset stroll. 

Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge: Sunset Dining by the Sea 

As the day winds down and the sun begins to dip below the horizon, make your way to the final stop of your micro-tour: Jack O’Neill Restaurant and Lounge. This waterfront gem offers a perfect blend of seasonal fresh dinner with local delicacies on the menu and spectacular cocktails to savor. From fresh seafood caught that day to artisanal dishes highlighting Santa Cruz’s culinary bounty, Jack O’Neill’s menu is a celebration of coastal cuisine at its finest. Pair your meal with a glass of local wine or one of their signature cocktails, and toast to a day well spent exploring the beauty of Santa Cruz. 

Photo by Ben Ingram

Where to Stay: Coastal Retreats 

After a day of exploration, unwind and recharge at one of Santa Cruz’s charming coastal retreats. Sea & Sand Inn offers cozy rooms with breathtaking ocean views, while Dream Inn invites guests to relax in style with modern amenities and a prime beachfront location. Just across the street from the Dream Inn is Seaway Inn, another adorable spot for West Cliff adventures. For a more intimate experience, West Cliff Inn combines Victorian charm with luxurious comfort, providing a peaceful haven just steps away from West Cliff Drive’s attractions. 

Whether you’re a seasoned surfer, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a slice of coastal paradise, Santa Cruz’s West Cliff Drive offers a micro-tour that promises unforgettable experiences at every turn. So, grab your surfboard or simply your sense of adventure, and let the allure of Santa Cruz’s coastal charm guide you on a journey you won’t soon forget.